American Folklore

America Folklore: Arkansas

The Folklore of America: Arkansas

Located in the southeastern United States, Arkansas was the twenty-fifth state admitted to the union, in 1836. Of course, it had been accepting European settlers for quite sometime before that, and Native Americans lived in the area for thousands of years prior to European exploration. The first recorded European explorer of Arkansas was Hernando de Soto in 1541, and the territory changed hands between Spain and France for a couple of centuries before coming into the possession of the United States in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. Interestingly, the pronunciation of the state was only settled as “Ark-an-saw” with an act of the state legislature in the 1880’s. Before that, it was more commonly pronounced as “Ark-an-sas,” and some local people still use that pronunciation for the nearby Arkansas River.

Over the centuries, there have been plenty of opportunities for Arkansas to develop its own unique folklore. Here are some of the highlights of it.

The White River Monster

Like many large lakes and rivers in the world, the White River in Arkansas has its own “Loch Ness monster.” Called Whitey, the monster began being reported more than a century ago, though some claim it is responsible for capsized boats in the area during the Civil War, even before the first sightings of the monster. The first reported sighting was in 1912, where local timber workers saw something large floating near the bottom of the river. They estimated it weighed about three hundred pounds and said it looked like a large turtle.

More reports were made over the years, but Whitey finally made national news in 1937, when a sighting of a large, gray-skinned monster in the river was reported. The monster was said to be about the width of a car and the length of three cars. Subsequent sightings over the years added a horn to Whitey’s face, and spines going down its back. Some reports even said Whitey left the river to walk on land, leaving three-toed tracks of fourteen inches long behind it.

A bill was passed by the state legislature in 1973 to prohibit harming Whitey in any way. While the exact nature of the White River Monster is unknown, some scientists have speculated that he could be an alligator snapping turtle, which can live up to 150 years, can weigh as much as four hundred pounds, has a pointy head, spines on its back, and is gray in color, much like the reported sightings of Whitey.

The Gowrow Monster

Whitey isn’t the only monster in Arkansas folklore. There is also the infamous Gowrow of the Ozarks, which is said to be a wingless dragon. With webbed feet, two tusks, a speared tail, and the requisite “monster” spines on its back, the Gowrow is said to be twenty feet long, nocturnal, and a predator of livestock and small animals. It is called the Gowrow supposedly because of the sound it makes. The first sighting of the Gowrow was reported in a newspaper in 1897. Reports have continued sporadically in the Ozarks area since that time.

The Dog Boy Ghost

The town of Quitman, Arkansas has its very own poltergeist, thanks to the infamous Dog Boy ghost. The ghost was originally a well-known psychopathic human named Gerald Bettis. Gerald was known as a child to be exceptionally cruel to animals, capturing local pets and wildlife to torture and kill for fun. As he got older, his cruelty became greater and extended to humans. He abused his elderly mother so much, she had to be taken in by Adult Protective Services, and while there is no proof, he is thought to have murdered his elderly father. His mother testified against him in court for abuse, and that, along with charges of growing and selling marijuana, got him sent to prison, where he died of a drug overdose in the 1990’s.

Since then, he has been haunting his former home, which has had reported poltergeist activity. His image has been seen by people in and near the home and has taken on more animal-like characteristics over the years, gradually morphing from looking more human to appearing more canine and feline. His ghost is now reported as being shaggy with fur and with cat-like eyes, glaring at people from the window of his former home as they walk down the street. One person even reported Gerald’s ghost chasing him down the street on all fours, just like one of the animals he used to love to torture.

The Gurdon Ghost Light

The light is definitely real. It has been documented, photographed, and even featured on TV on the old show, Unsolved Mysteries. However, the nature of the light is in question, and many believe it is a ghost.

The light moves along the railway tracks the way a lantern would if it was being carried by a railway worker. However, there is nothing supporting the light, which makes it definitely ghostly. The most popular local theory is that it is the ghost of Louie McBryde, a railway worker who was fired from his job in 1931. In a rage, he came back and murdered his boss, and was later executed for it. The Gurdon ghost light began appearing right after the execution, which is why so many people believe it is the ghost of McBryde.

The Old Spanish Treasure Cave

This bit of Arkansas folklore doesn’t have anything of the supernatural to it, but it is a very old tale, and extremely interesting. In fact, it still fascinates people to this day. Legend says that three hundred fifty years ago, some Spanish conquistadors traveled through the area that is now Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, looking for one of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, which were supposed to be cities of gold. They found the city, took an enormous treasure of gold, and hid it in a local cave to keep the Native Americans from finding it. The gold is said to still be hidden there today.

In fact, people know exactly what cave the gold is supposedly in, but it has never been found. Visitors can pay for a guided tour of the Old Spanish Treasure Cave and discover why historians and treasure hunters believe the gold is still hidden in the cave somewhere yet to be discovered.


Will Moneymaker founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. The thrill of the hunt, the adventure, and the excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his surname. Why I Love Genealogy (And You Should, Too!)